Rabbi Lionel Blue z”l was famous for his warm and often witty Thought for the Day broadcasts on BBC Radio 4. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner paid tribute to him with this Thought for the Day.
Good morning Nick, good morning Michelle and good morning everyone.
My teacher and rabbi, Lionel Blue would always start his Thought for the Day’s like that, as he knew that naming things – people, experiences and God, who he often called “Fred” – was vital. With comfort, candour and courage, he enabled us to talk in the language of faith about life and death; love and hatred; mental illness; sexuality; old age and God.
Lionel loved the Monday slot on Thought for the Day because opening a new week was his chance to tackle Monday blues, to bring wisdom and a healthy dose of Jewish humour into our lives when we need it most.
When I listened to Lionel’s Thoughts, just like everyone else I’m sure, I was certain he was talking only to me, as though he was sitting in my kitchen, chatting and sharing a pot of tea. He enriched my day with his humanity, humour and humility. His Thought would rumble through my head for hours, leaving me chuckling at his jokes, and reflecting on his message.
Thought For the Day was Lionel’s true pulpit. He always said his listeners wanted ‘not religion, but God’. His was a personal God who, alongside his long-term partner Jim, helped him through decades of struggle and success as Britain’s most loved rabbi. Lionel taught us that his sexuality was a blessing as he “fell in love with love”.
As trainee rabbis at Leo Baeck College, we loved Lionel’s classes about prayer. He taught us to talk directly to God, to tell the truth, in a way that people can hear but to tell the truth by bringing all of yourself, your heart and your longings into your relationship with God. He brought us profound spiritual messages with a lightness that meant you were accompanied by him rather than preached at. Lionel taught us that our job as rabbis is to speak truth to power, to ourselves first and then to God. He believed religion should be “a home and not a prison” and that it “can turn problems into opportunities”. He taught theology by working outwards from tiny, tricky experiences towards the divine. He communicated his faith and advocated for all faiths, not just for Judaism. As he said, “I have been trying to discover the scripture of my own life and encourage others to discover theirs.”
I remember him saying that “heaven was my true home and also that heaven was here and now, woven into this life.” Now you’re there, Lionel, and not here, we miss you, but your impact will remain woven into our lives and into our Thoughts for the day and for every day for many years to come.